Garden Notes

Where the bee sucks, there suck I in a cowslip's bell I lie.-William Shakespeare, "The Tempest". Photos by Susan Safford

Pinkletinks sing while gardeners read

By Abigail Higgins - March 29, 2007

The pinkletink chorus in my neighborhood is muted, while down in the Lambert's Cove area it is more of a roar. Welcome to spring and remember not to relax your guard, as far as the garden is concerned. Last night it was snow and sleet, but better days are assuredly coming.

There was a nice turnout for the "Backyard Poultry and Beyond" panel discussion at Agricultural Hall last week. Thank you to the panelists Jim Athearn, Melinda DeFeo, Lynn Irons, Katherine Long, and Mitchell Posin, (plus Tom Vogel in the front row) and to the audience, for their diverse and engaging comments. There are probably several more potential panels on this topic; please give members of the Program Committee your feedback.

Upcoming Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society events include the annual Spring Potluck Supper and Social Saturday evening, March 31 at 6 pm at the Hall. Hector Asselin will show old Island movies from past decades. There is no admission, only please bring a dish for six. The Society welcomes all friends and supporters, and those who would become so.

On Wednesday, April 25 at 7 pm, the Society presents a program on worm composting, or vermiculture, by Dr. Barbara Stelle. An informal dahlia tuber exchange is also planned for that evening. Similar to a holiday cookie exchange, bring your excess tubers (tagged or ID-ed is nice but not required) to share and exchange with other dahlia enthusiasts. Admission is free and all are welcome.

Crocuses of yellow and white are a sure sign of spring.

Something I have always wanted to do, fanciful and inefficient as it may seem, is to acquire and use one of those little folk-craft devices made of wood or marble that form planting pots from recycled newspapers. Ever noticed how everything having to do with propagating plants and gardening seems to involve plastic? Not only do we buy plastic to start out - cells, trays, row cover, and plastic mulch - and pay to dispose of it; but also we pay yet again in the environmental degradation that comes from plastics manufacture and its breakdown. I actually bought one of these sets, (although other forms, like tomato paste cans or small jars can be used). It came, rock maple with minimal instructions, and now I am trying to master the technique of making the little pots strongly and quickly. Whew - putting my money where my mouth is and disposing of The Times in an environmentally responsible manner!

Several books in support of organic methods that deserve brief reviews have recently come across my desk. The review copies are donated to the West Tisbury Free Public Library where they will be available to library patrons. "Grow Organic" by Doug Oster and Jessica Walliser (St. Lynn's Press, Pittsburgh, 2007, 224 ppg, $18.95) covers organic methods for flowers, vegetables, lawns "and more." The authors are both active in Pittsburgh area garden and media activities: print, radio and television. Oster is a garden and food syndicated columnist who co-hosts "The Organic Gardeners" weekly with Walliser on KDKA radio. Walliser has a degree in horticulture and is a regular contributor to national and regional gardening publications. She also lectures across the country.

Divided into nine chapters, the book's content is comprehensive, considering its length of 224 pages. Each chapter has various sidebars and a first-person anecdote by each of the authors, Doug Tells All and Jess Tells All, themed in to the chapter subject, a nice feature. Starting with "Guiding Principles" and "Taking the Leap," (general elementary concepts that many readers are probably familiar with,) the text progresses on to more of the nitty-gritty in chapter three, about "The Real Dirt," organic soil management. Chapter sections and the short paragraphs within them have boldface headings, making it easy to zero in on the info you want. More on insects, ornamentals, vegetables, home fruit production, and lawns almost completes the book, in enough detail to be helpful, but not so much that the novice gardener feels avalanched with too much knowledge to absorb. The ninth and final chapter, "Control Issues," is likely to be the most consulted portion, dealing as it does with what controls can be used with a problem, and how. Very pretty color photos illustrate portions of the book. While experienced gardeners might quibble with details here and there within the text, the general quality of information in this book is reliable and helpful.

"The Organic Lawn Care Manual," by Paul Tukey (Storey Publishing, No. Adams, MA, 192 ppg, $19.95 paperback) is a compendium of a great deal you never knew about lawns. By that I mean that there is a lot more between the covers than simply how to have a nice organic lawn. Paul Tukey is known for "People, Places, & Plants," the regional New England garden publication, and its spin-off television show of the same name. The father of young children, he has recently launched a national public awareness campaign,, that promotes the use of organic lawn care methods.

Tukey and Storey Publications have put a lot of effort into this volume. Every page has enough color photos and illustrations to tell the story for you, even if you don't enjoy sitting down to read a book. Since the man of the house is often in charge of the lawn, in addition to many other responsibilities, it may have been a wise decision to design its information in a very quickly grasped format. Tukey wants folks to have organic lawns and to help them achieve those lawns simply and happily. But in case it is the woman of the house who is in charge of the lawn, Tukey has made sure that no lawn mumbo-gumbo obscures the methods he promotes.

A very brief mention, of interest to gardeners and all who work outside, concerns recent reports on gene research released by Dana Farber Cancer Institute. A gene known as P53, the tumor suppressor gene, prompts skin to tan when exposed to sunlight and also may explain why people enjoy being in the sun, by releasing an opiate-like endorphin! It is an over-simplification to put this way, but it sounds as if people who have the gene derive anti-cancer benefit from being in the sun. This stands conventional wisdom about sun exposure on its head. For further information, Googling "gene p53" on the Internet should yield an abundance of links on this topic.